Something old. Something new.
It’s the recipe for a perfect wedding of Longview’s past with its present in old homes that have been given new purpose.
In several spots around downtown Longview, businesses have moved into some of the oldest homes still standing in the city. They’ve preserved history while adding modern touches that allow them to operate their businesses in spaces tied to significant people and events in Longview. It’s what the National Trust for Historic Preservation describes as “adaptive reuse” on its website.
“Historic preservation encourages cities to build on the assets they have — unleashing the enormous power and potential of older buildings to improve health, affordability, prosperity, and well-being,” the organization’s website says. “Ultimately, it’s the mix of old and new buildings, working together to fashion dense, walkable, and thriving streets, that helps us achieve a more prosperous, sustainable, and healthier future. By transforming the places we live to places we love, older buildings are a key and irreplaceable component of this future, and we are richer and stronger when they remain.”
View magazine toured a couple of the homes whose place in the city has been secured through new purpose.
Whaley House, 101 E. Whaley Home of The Sloan Firm
Built in 1871, the Whaley House was the fourth home constructed in Longview and is the oldest home in the city, according to documents filed as part of the home’s original state historical marker application. The home also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Operating a business in an historic home has its challenges, said Alan Robertson, one of the partners in The Sloan Firm that operates out of the Whaley House. Robertson recently led efforts to secure the home’s local historic landmark designation. He pointed to a campaign by the National Trust for Historic Preservation called “This place matters.”
“The Whaley House matters to Longview, to Gregg County,” he said.
Its location behind the Gregg County Courthouse is ideal for attorneys, he said, and it’s a memorable location.
Franklin Lucilius Whaley, originally of Georgia, married Mary Caroline Rogers, originally from Tennessee in 1855 in Harrison County. They moved to Longview in 1870 and Whaley opened a hardware store here. They were charter members of First Baptist Church, and he served as mayor for several years starting in 1891. Gregg County’s first court was held in the second story of his hardware store, until the county’s first courthouse was built in 1879.
Members of the Whaley family lived there until 1979, when the Sharp, Ward and Ross law firm purchased the house and restored it, as well as added a modern office addition to the rear of the house.
Attorney John Sloan had rented an office in the house when he first moved to Longview in 1983.
“I’ve always liked old houses and old things and just fell in love with it then,” Sloan said.
He jumped at the chance to buy it in 1996.
“I haven’t changed anything about the old part, other than try to maintain it,” he said. “As you know, it can be tough to maintain an old house, but I feel like it’s worth the extra effort that it takes to keep it like it is and has been because it’s so unique.
“I think that we need to hold on to the beautiful architecture that we have in the area,” Sloan continued. “They’re not building houses like this or that look like this anymore, and if we let landmarks in Longview go to waste we’re losing a part of our heritage.”
The law firm’s main entry is on the Center Street side of the structure. The original entry to the home, facing Whaley Street, features portraits of the Whaleys. Sloan particularly noted the boards in the floor of the entry foyer, which are different widths because they were milled from pine trees on the site.
The home originally was four rooms, with additions made later. One of those additions is among the home’s features that Robertson likes — the “preacher’s room” on the southwest corner of the home.
Now an office for one of the firm’s attorneys, it has its own fireplace and its own entrance from the front porch. The Whaleys built the room so circuit preachers would have a place to stay in Longview, he said. Several years ago, the firm had to replace some of the original boards on the front porch. During the work, original square nails that were made by a blacksmith were discovered.
“You have this sense that what we do here has a lasting effect on the community, on our state, on our nation,” Robertson said, “and so as lawyers that’s important to us.”
Daniel-Wrather Home, 310 S. Green St. Cherokee Minerals, Way West Oil Co.
The life that took place at 310 S. Green St. before Charlotte and John Wrather purchased the property is always under foot.
They bought the approximately 4,000 square foot home in 2004 from the family of the original owner, prominent business owner Oliver Daniel. They embarked on a renovation project that included pulling up old carpet, where they found unexplained marks along the original hardwood floor in what is now a reception area. They’ve carefully decorated the area with antiques and contemporary pieces that complement that home’s arts and crafts style.
“We found out there was a niece or something that gave piano lessons,” Charlotte Wrather said, and the tracks on the floor show where the piano had been moved around the room.
Daniel built the home in about 1924. He was a partner in the famed Gregg Hotel, owned the East Texas Lumber Company and was active in a number of civic organizations. John Wrather was born in Longview, and grew up near the Daniel home. Daniel died in 1970, but the home with its wide, covered front porch remained in his family. It was occupied by a renter until the Wrathers purchased it.
Their purchase was intentional — the Wrathers are passionate about saving and reusing old buildings. Old buildings usually come with a “good deal,” even though they require a big investment to bring them up to code, Charlotte said. She speculated about “all the buildings” that have been torn down in Longview over the years. Someone could have saved them for a new use, she said.
“It takes a lot of imagination,” she said.
“But we don’t have anymore imagination than anybody else,” John said.
Their businesses, Cherokee Minerals and Way West Oil Co., had been located downtown in buildings they renovated on Tyler Street and later sold to attorney Ralph Pelaia. They wanted to be in the downtown area, the Wrathers said, but wanted dedicated parking for their business. That prompted their move.
“We had to gut this completely,” Charlotte said, including replacing the home’s doors and 40-something windows. The whole place had to be sheetrocked, John said, because the walls consisted of wallpaper over wood.
The Wrathers left original built-in cabinets in the front reception area, but opened up a wall and door directly into an existing, wide hallway that runs down the center of the home. Now, the arch they had constructed, leading into the hallway, reflects original arches found between the kitchen and dining area and an arched doorway further down the hall.
The original arch in the hallway includes French doors that also are arched, to match the home’s construction.
“This is one of the reasons we loved it,” Charlotte said.
“There were maybe 20 coats of paint on them, so we got them stripped down,” and stained them, John said.
They also installed all new electrical wiring and plumbing, as well as heating and air conditioning.
They studied the era as they embarked on the renovation.
“We just read about the era and tried to do it,” Charlotte said.
She acknowledges, though, that those kinds of renovation projects can be overwhelming.
“Most people can’t see the forest for the trees,” John said.
It was a fun process, Charlotte said.
“This is the longest I think we’ve ever been any place, and why move?” she said.